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Collin O'Brien
February 21, 2022
Reading time
2 min read

Professional translation services: Well-intentioned or well done?

"Hey, you speak English. Can you translate something for me?" As a bilingual or multilingual person, you probably hear this question all too often . . .
Professional translation services: Well-intentioned or well done?

Professional translation services: Well-intentioned or well done?

"Hey, you speak English. Can you translate something for me?" As a bilingual or multilingual person, you probably hear this question all too often. If there's a meeting with international guests coming up, a term paper due, or some kind of translation needed, you'll be asked to help out.

Woman asking for help

On the other hand, if you're one of those people who regularly rely on the assistance of your language-savvy friends, this article is for you. Because this is where we’ll explain why it's important to turn to professionals for these things. Just because someone speaks a language doesn't mean they can do professional translation work.

People are quick to ask for translation help. As a bilingual person, I can vouch for my peers when I say: we're happy to help, and of course, we know how frustrating it is to stare at a wall of text with absolutely no clue what it says.

However, you should do yourselves a favor and recognize that multilingualism alone does not ensure perfection. If you value quality, you also want to make sure that the translated and edited version of your text matches the original. There are a few things to keep in mind!

Here are just three of the most important points.

The importance of time in good translations

Good translations take TIME. Friends are often quick to accept a translation task just so you aren’t left hanging. (This point is probably the most important and could save you some arguments.) Of course, if it's a short speech in a relaxed atmosphere or unclear phrasing in an instruction manual, quick work is no big deal.

Man saying "that's okay"

A full essay or an entire thesis, though, is a completely different story. Then it’s not just a matter of translating word for word, but of conveying entire concepts and ideas in another language. This leads us right to the second point.

Nuances and cultural differences

While bilingualism means that you understand both languages very well (or even perfectly), you have to keep in mind that each language has its own very nuanced cultural — and technical — elements that put the finishing touches on your speech or thesis. English is the official language in 55 different countries. 55! That's 55 different cultures and social environments, 55 different kinds of humor, proverbs, and idioms.

Man in awe

On top of that, there are regional accents, customs, and worldviews within those 55 different countries. The topic of your text alone dictates which vocabulary, jargon, and slang you have to use. Especially with very technical texts, even native speakers struggle to translate certain words because they have never dealt with the subject matter. The list goes on.

Bilingual friends vs. professional translation

Being bilingual means having a native level of proficiency in both languages. But that doesn't mean you have a conscious understanding of all the grammatical rules and are a master of perfect punctuation.

Case in point: "genitive vs. dative." Do you always know when to use which case? "That just sounds right" already reveals why you should really have translations and corrections checked by professionals before handing in your final draft.

Of course it's helpful to have bilingual friends you can rely on for quick help, but that doesn't make them qualified translation service providers. To provide such a professional service, you need not only years of training, but also concrete experience honing your skills.

It's similar to fixing your car. Sure, you can ask a colleague who works on cars in his spare time for help, hoping to save yourself time and money. However, with your colleague, you don’t know what you’ll get in the end. In a repair shop, you can be sure that your car will be taken care of by professionals — officially certified mechanics with years of experience. So, you have a choice between a gamble and a sure thing.

Take it from bilingual people: not only do we have our work checked by professionals, but even professionals have their work checked again by professionals. It really does pay off.